Director and writer Tom Ford once again shows himself to be a master of visual style in this haunting romantic thriller Nocturnal Animals that screens in the main competition in Venice with an exploration of the thin lines between love and cruelty, and revenge and redemption the startles with a plot of twists and turns, violence and beauty.
Susan Morrow, a Los Angeles art dealer, played by Amy Adams, lives a privileged yet unfulfilled life with her unfaithful husband. One day Susan receives a package, it is a novel, Nocturnal Animals, written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield played by Jake Gyllenhaal, with whom she has had no contact for years. Susan begins to read the manuscript which is dedicated to her and then she arranges to contact him.
But she finds the content of the novel violent and devastating. As she continue to read in between scenes of her artificial art world life-style the scenes of the novel become more real than her real life. While Susan reads, she begins to flash back over her life and eventual split-up with her ex-husband. So we are shunted between there narratives, Susan’s real life, the scenes from the gritty and violent Western of the novel with characters played by Adams and Gyllenhaal, and flashbacks to her earlier life with her ex-husband. It is a complex mixture of three different stories, but somehow it seems to work.
As Susan remembers she split up with her ex-husband because she no longer believed that he could make it as a writer and left him for another man. The novel proves that she was wrong and her talented husband has produced true art while she has become a glossy fake. Reading the novel Susan falls in love again with her own ideals and her ex-husband. She decides to set up a meeting with him and they agree to meet in a restaurant in LA.
As Ford says “In an increasingly disposable culture where everything including our relationships can be so easily tossed away, this is a story of loyalty, dedication and love. It is a story of the isolation that we all feel, and of the importance of valuing the personal connections in life that sustain us.” Ford draws a startling contrast both emotionally and visually between the totally artificial and stylish LA art world and the gritty real life of the Western desert where the novel is set. The irony is that fiction and the strong and raw emotions the novel evokes is more real than real the shallow real life of emotionally hollow LA.
This is undoubted Ford’s best film since A Single Man and in many ways Nocturnal Animals surpasses it. The twists and turns of the plot are intriguing and the ability to balance the three story lines as at once separate stories and at the same time fully connecting into a single story shows a masterful maturity as a director. At the same time Ford’s work as a fashion designer could not be more fully on display than with the highly designed visuals of the film which become a character in the story. The film is sure to have both a festival and a commercial life after Venice.
Nocturnal Animals (USA)
Directed by Tom Ford
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Laura Linney